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Tuesday, 05 September 2017

'It took us too long to reach out' after Grenfell fire, admits British Red Cross chief

Written by Jemma Crew & Henry Vaughan

The head of the British Red Cross has admitted it took too long to reach out to community groups helping in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire.

Mike Adamson said the team should have coordinated better and faster with the North Kensington community volunteers on the ground, and that trust in the organisation had been compromised as a result.

Calling the 24-storey tower block fire "one of our biggest ever challenges", he also said the charity needed to have a contingency plan for "when those in charge fail".

An emergency task force was drafted in to help Kensington and Chelsea Council following the June 14 tragedy, in which at least 80 people died, while scores of voluntary groups and community members mobilised to support those impacted.

Sharing a series of lessons to be learned in a blog for New Philanthropy Capital think tank, Mr Adamson said: "We reached out to some of the larger local organisations from the beginning to help coordinate fundraising.

"But it took us too long to reach out to the real grassroots groups and that cost us in terms of trust through the process. We are still trying to address this.

"This may also have been the reason that more effort was put into managing donated goods rather than getting cash into the hands of people fast, as we would do in our international programming.

"There is a real lesson here about how we engage with a community that we do not know."

The chief executive said the aftermath of the fire had raised questions such as: "How should we handle a situation where the authorities are failing? At what point do we break ranks and 'call it' in a way that is also constructive and enables the working relationships that remain critical to continue to operate?"

Campaigners have repeatedly warned that money raised for those affected by the fire has not reached their hands quickly enough, with the latest Charity Commission figures showing just over £8 million has been distributed out of the £18,858,106 total raised.

Just under half of £5.6 million raised for the Red Cross Fire Relief Fund has been made available to the London Emergencies Trust for distribution, the charity said.

The Red Cross also faced a huge backlog in sorting through donations a month after the fire, with items having to be moved to be sold in charity shops across the country.

Mr Adamson said there was a "real challenge to improve coordination of fundraising efforts and distribution mechanisms".

He also said the fire had stretched the capacity of Red Cross volunteers "to the limit", adding it was "way beyond what we needed to do for the terror attacks".

Diversity at all levels of the charity was a problem he said he was hoping to tackle.

He went on: "There is a risk that in a very diverse community like Grenfell, an organisation with the words 'British' and 'Cross' in its title is confused with a Christian, establishment organisation

"Yet we are completely impartial and our ambition is to harness our access to the 'establishment' in the service of people in crisis.

"And there is no escaping the fact that with shining exceptions, such as our refugee services, we are nowhere near as diverse as we need to be in our volunteer base, our staffing or our leadership.

"We cannot be 'of' every community, but we can be much more representative of the population as a whole."

While warning against developing policy purely on the basis of a "hopefully very rare event like Grenfell", he said there was much "much to learn from the tragedy" to improve community resilience, response and recovery.

More than 200 Grenfell Tower blaze survivors referred for stress treatment

More than 200 victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster have been referred to the NHS for treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

The figures released by Kensington and Chelsea Council show 220, or two thirds (66%), of the 330 people screened have been referred for specialist treatment.

The council said it has invested £2.5 million to ensure there is a network of support with outreach teams visiting families and residents in the community and hotels.

The Central Northwest London NHS Foundation Trust, which also has outreach teams going to hotels, along with GPs, have referred 439 people for specialist mental health treatment.

But Steven Pretty, who lived near the 24-storey west London high-rise, where at least 80 people died, said nobody has approached him to offer support after he moved out of his flat following the June 14 blaze.

"Forty yards from my living room window was a tower block that was all on fire... windows were just falling out, the crashing noises, the screams, the shouts," he told 5 News.

"I couldn't do anything that night and that's painful and I've been carrying that for the last eight, nine weeks."

Mr Pretty, 40, is now reaching out for support, and has spoken out to encourage others to do the same.

"I put it off so many weeks because I just felt ashamed of myself, guilt, shock, disturbed, displaced," he said.

"I need to talk about that night."

Councillor Kim Taylor-Smith, deputy leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, described the Grenfell tragedy as a "humanitarian crisis on a unique scale".

"There is a network of support available, including proactive work within the community and schools, a 24 NHS helpline and emotional support services provided by local community groups along with the Samaritans," she told 5 News.

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